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Radical Black Theatre in the New Deal$
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Kate Dossett

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781469654423

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469654423.001.0001

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Garveyism, Communism, and Gender Trouble

Garveyism, Communism, and Gender Trouble

Theodore Ward’s Big White Fog

(p.164) 4 Garveyism, Communism, and Gender Trouble
Radical Black Theatre in the New Deal

Kate Dossett

University of North Carolina Press

In Theodore Ward’s Big White Fog, Vic Mason seeks a better life for his family in the Universal Negro Improvement Association. His son, Les, looks for answers in the interracial Communist movement. Both men and movements come undone for they rely on gender hierarchies which sustain racial capitalism in the United States. This chapter explores the controversy that began when Ward read a draft of his play before a South Side audience in January 1938 and continued through the Negro Playwrights Company’s staging of the play in Harlem in October 1940. Drawing on variant manuscripts, this chapter documents the role of the Black performance community in shaping the version of the play first staged by the Chicago Negro Unit at the Great Northern Theatre in April 1938. The responses of the local community make clear it was the staging of gender and racial divisions within Black families and political movements, rather than Communism, which made Big White Fog a provocative play in 1938. The sympathetic portrayal of the Garvey movement reminds us that communism was not the only radical path for African Americans in the 1930s, even if the legacy of anti-Communism has disproportionately shaped knowledge production about Black theatre.

Keywords:   Theodore Ward, Big White Fog, Chicago Negro Unit, Negro Playwrights Company, communism, Garvey, Universal Negro Improvement Association, Black theatre, anti-communism

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